Iphana had a long and lonely winter, despite the microwave link back to town. She’d read her mail, exercised religiously, made all her microwave contacts and spoken to maybe four people all winter, listened to the plays and music they’d patched through to her, tried hibernating around her schedule for a few weeks, intermittently kept a diary and gazed out an upstairs window into the storm. Well, peeked through a crack in her bedroom window’s storm shutter.
Peering through that crack, she realised that the stories about a whole different ecology inside the winter storm were true. Felinoids that could have laired comfortably in her maintenance garage stalked browsers with low centres of gravity across the snow outside as they rooted out whatever delicacies it were that they ate. Some of the creatures chose to use her outpost as a backscratcher and the building shook with every rub of the larger ones. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to occur to these great beasts that there could be an inside to the outpost, Iphana didn’t want to try dodging any of these creatures in their own environment.
She asked about them in her daily talks with the town but Sawyl had to tell her that the town never saw the large creatures in winter. “The grass must be wrong or something,” he added.
“Don’t be sorry,” Iphana told him, “some of these things are big enough to shake the building when they rub against it.” She paused then asked, “Could that be the reason for some of the unexplained winter damage on outpost buildings I was reading about?”
“I can just imagine,” the voice of Auditor Carvell came over the feed, “the expressions on the faces of the engineers back in Central when they’re told that their buildings are inadequately braced for their secondary function of scratching post.”